Friday, September 17, 2010

Food Shopping

Two events this week have conspired to put me in a state of childlike glee - the kind where you're jumping up and down in the middle of the room clapping because you can't contain your excitement.

These events would have to be pretty big deal then, right?

They are! The first, is that a new supermarket opened this week. The second, is that I went to the laundromat for the first time.

Do those seem like fairly ordinary events to you? Let me explain why they are not.

1. Grocery shopping has been a little challenging here, largely because of the cultural difference in how food shopping is approached. I prefer to buy all my groceries for the week in one large trip. From what I've observed, families here buy enough food for two to three days at a time. I think the food-shopping style is likely the result of the supply of food, and the way grocery stores are organized, but it's possible that it is also a cause of grocery store construction.

Grocery stores here are fairly small, by US standards. They are about the size I remember grocery stores being in the mid-80s in the US, when I first became conscious of grocery stores. The largest grocery store with the best variety, and certainly my preferred store, the Riteway flagship store on Pasea had 8 aisles, including the freezer cases, and deli counter. The aisles were too narrow for two small carts to pass each other. Most shopping was done with a hand basket.

It was always a gamble as to whether the store would have the items you were looking for in stock. Where the canned tomatoes were one week was simply a gaping hole the next. This was especially true for meats. Planning a week of meals meant coming up with 9 different recipes, then seeing what was available, and completing the shopping from there. I understood why so many people only shopped for three days' food.

The new grocery store, taking the place of the Riteway flagship store, is a new, improved larger Riteway. I went there yesterday. It is immense in comparison to the rest of the grocery stores here, easily twice as large as the old Riteway. The interior looked stunningly familiar, and after a moment or two, I realized I had just walked into a new Safeway. Literally, all the fixtures are the same. I don't know if Riteway partnered with Safeway to create the new store, or if the owners simply modeled this new store on Safeway, but a Safeway it is.

In a way, I feel a little guilty that I am so excited by this new, bigger grocery store. Instead of adapting to the island style of grocery shopping, I now have a familiar, US-style store, where I can go and do large, US-style grocery shopping. On the other hand, the well-stocked shelves, prominently-displayed price tags, and wide aisles bring such joy to my heart that I ignore the guilty feelings, and echo in the sentiments of the British ex-pat who was in front of me at the checkout: "Wow! I can really get some SHOPPING done at this store!"

Tomorrow: Why the laundromat is the most exciting thing since the electric washer.

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